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Norfleet Family Genealogy

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The Norfleet Family During the Revolutionary War Era (1775-1790)

by Phil Norfleet


Section 1 – Prelude to Revolution

The Edenton Tea Party

Cora Norfleet, said to be a daughter of Abraham Norfleet (1728-1784) of Chowan County, North Carolina, is reputed to have been one of the participants in the Edenton Tea Party. On 25 October 1774, a group of Edenton women signed and promulgated a pledge promising to refrain from:

"… that pernicious custom of drinking tea, or that the aforesaid ladies would not promote the wear of any manufacture from England …"

The ladies vowed to continue this boycott until the tax on tea, recently enacted by the British Parliament, was repealed. This incident has been immortalized by historians as the "Edenton Tea Party," which occurred a few months after the much more famous "Boston Tea Party."

The early twentieth century North Carolina historian and genealogist, J. R. B. Hathaway, published a list of fifty-one ladies, including Cora as one of the signers. [1] However, I have been unable to find any documentary evidence that supports this finding. The published list of signers, contained in the official guide to historic Edenton and Chowan County, does not contain Cora’s name. The Edenton guide book’s list is the same as that published in a London newspaper of the time. On 16 January 1775, the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser [2] carried a report on the event and provided a list of fifty-two ladies. The two lists are widely divergent; only six names are common to both lists, namely:

Penelope Barker

Jean Blair

Hannah Iredell

Sarah Littlejohn

Elizabeth Roberts

Sarah Valentine

To the best of my knowledge, no documentary sources have ever been produced for either list. As for Cora, I’ve never been able to find any hard evidence that she ever really existed! Accordingly, to quote a phrase first used by Fillmore Norfleet, "I look with glazed eye" when I hear the name Cora Norfleet!

Section 2 - Norfleet Participation in the Revolutionary War

Only three members of the Norfleet family are known to have fought in the Revolutionary War. Several other Norfleets performed "patriotic services during the War. For those female readers of this book who are interested in joining the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), it is my understanding that to join all you have to do is show direct descent from someone who fought in the Revolution, on the Whig/Patriot side, or who provided services to the patriot cause. Therefore, any ladies who can establish descent from any of the Norfleets discussed in this section (except Henry Norfleet of course), should be able to use them to qualify for DAR membership.

Norfleets Who Fought in the Revolution

Three Norfleets are known to have fought in the Revolutionary War (all were born in Nansemond County, Virginia); they are:

Henry Norfleet (1762-1804)

Henry was probably a son of John Norfleet (1729-1812) of Nansemond County, Virginia. He is known in Norfleet genealogical circles as "Henry the Tory."

From the Virginia State Court records, the Papers of the Virginia Legislature, notices contained in the principal Virginia newspaper of the time, The Virginia Gazette and from British Army Muster Rolls, the Revolutionary War experience of "Henry the Tory" can be reconstructed.

In late May, 1781, Lieutenant-General, Earl Cornwallis and his Army crossed the border from North Carolina into Virginia. From a review of his correspondence, it is evident that Cornwallis and most of his forces were encamped near Suffolk, Virginia from 12 through 21 July. Henry enlisted as a Private in Cornwallis's Army (with the Royal North Carolina Regiment, Captain William Chandler's Company) at Suffolk on 14 July 1781. Several other young men of the area, probably all friends/acquaintances of Henry, also enlisted at the same time; their names included: John Holland, Jesse Holland, John Harrison, Levy Moore and William Hamblin. Several other Hollands had previously enlisted, on 14 June 1781, namely, Brittain (Albridgton?) Holland, Isaac Holland and Willis Holland. Henry’s mother, Judath, was probably a Holland, thus the Holland men were probably all relatives of Henry Norfleet.

Henry's career as a British soldier was short lived; he was taken prisoner at Yorktown, Virginia on 19 October 1781. As a loyalist in the British Army, he was not automatically subject to treatment as a prisoner of war (POW) as were the regular British troops. When the surrender terms were being negotiated, Cornwallis tried to include a provision guaranteeing the safety of the loyalist forces. However, Washington would not agree, saying that the disposition of the loyalist troops was a matter for the civil authorities, not the Continental Army.

After the surrender, Earl Cornwallis and most of his officers were immediately paroled and were permitted, a few days later, to embarque by sea for New York, where the main British force under Sir Henry Clinton was located. Some of the British Officers and almost all the enlisted men were sent off to POW camps in Virginia, Maryland or Pennsylvania. Henry Norfleet's regiment was marched off to an internment camp near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. On the way, at Fredericksburgh, Virginia, Henry was taken ill and left in that city. Subsequently, he and several other young men from Nansemond County (Levy Moore, Albridgton Holland, John Holland and Demsey Butler) were tried in the General Court at Richmond, Virginia for treason, found guilty and, on 26 October 1782, sentenced to be hanged!

Fortunately for Henry, the extremely hostile public feeling against the Virginia loyalists had significantly abated by the Autumn of 1782. On 11 November 1782, a petition for clemency was presented to the Virginia House of Delegates (Number B3813 on file at the Virginia State Library in Richmond):

                    "To the honorable Speaker and Gentlemen of the House of Delegates

"The petition of John Holland, Albritton Holland, Dempsey Butler, Henry Norfleet, and Levi Moore, humbly shew that they are under sentence of death on a charge of Treason against the State from the County of Nansemond; that they do not complain of this sentence from a consciousness of their guilty misconduct, which they were fully sensible of long before they were apprehended on this charge, as evidently appears by their after conduct, prior to their being apprehended, to wit, their returning from the enemy, some of them almost immediately, and others long before there was an apparent probability of the capture of the British Army, at York, and their engaging again in the services of their country by taking up Armes against the enemy in defence thereof; these circumstances, added to those of the enemy being in possession of all the country below them on the south side of the James River and a general despondency prevailed in the minds of the people in these parts, especially among the weak and ignorant part of them, among whom the petitioners' situations and circumstances in life unfortunately placed them. Your petitioners also are all very young men and flatter themselves, could their lives be spared, would yet be good and useful members of society, and in such case, it is their determined resolution to atone for their past misconduct, by their future good behavior, in every instance of their lives, a specimen of which they hope they have given, by their voluntary return from the enemy and taking up arms against them; Your Petitioners therefore, humbly beg leave to lay their cases before you, and pray that Your honorable House will be graciously pleased to take them under consideration, and also beg leave to hope, that, after considering them all under all the various circumstances that attend them, that these are the first offenses with which they were ever charged, that their characters are unexceptionable in every other instance of their lives; the proofs that they have given their early and timely repentance; their subsequent friendly disposition to their Country, which are proofs that nothing cou’d tempt them to attempt another injury to it, together with their youth and inexperience, and the frailty of human nature, you will graciously be pleased to pardon their offenses and Your Petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray &c."

The Virginia Assembly subsequently passed an act pardoning Henry (and his Nansemond County colleagues Albridgton (Albritton) Holland, John Holland and Levi Moore), but stipulated that he was required to serve in the American Army for the duration of the War. On 3 September 1783, the Treaty of Versailles went into effect and the Revolutionary War was officially at an end. Sometime in 1783, Henry was discharged and was able to return to civilian life.

John Norfleet (c. 1760- c. 1780)

John may also have been a son of John Norfleet (1729-1812) of Nansemond County, Virginia. He was a privateer who was captured and imprisoned on the infamous British prison-ship, the JERSEY.

The old JERSEY was one of several derelict ships, anchored in Wallabout Bay off shore from Brooklyn, New York, which were used as prison ships by the British during the Revolution. These hulks were stripped of their fittings and the gun ports nailed securely. The only prisoners held in these ships were captured crew members from American privateers who had been taken by the Royal Navy in American coastal waters. This means that John Norfleet was a member of the crew of a Yankee privateer!

Privateering could be very lucrative if you were lucky enough not to be killed or captured. The Yankee privateer, as the name implies, was a privately financed, armed vessel. Any war booty taken by such ships belonged to the owner and crew, each person receiving a predetermined share of the loot. Of course, one man’s privateer is another man’s pirate; the British considered these ships to be nothing more than pirate vessels and any captured officers and crew members were deserving of the worst kind of punishment. Incarceration on ships like the old JERSEY was virtually a death sentence, particularly if you were not an officer from a wealthy family, who might be able to buy your freedom or at least provide you with better food, etc. I am relatively sure that this John Norfleet did not survive the war!

Nathaniel Norfleet (1760-1836)

Nathaniel was probably a grandson of Edward Norfleet (d. 1747) of Nansemond County, Virginia. He was born in Nansemond County, Virginia in 1760. Nathaniel was the son of Thomas Norfleet and Janetta Wilson. Thomas was a Tobacco Inspector (a lucrative and much sought after position) at the town of Suffolk in Nansemond County. He also was a member of the Anglican Vestry for the Upper Parish. Nathaniel's mother, Janetta, was the daughter of John Wilson, a prosperous Scottish merchant from the County of Ayr in the Scottish Lowlands.

Revolutionary War Service

In 1832, when an old man, he applied for a Revolutionary War Pension. Nathaniel claimed that, in 1776, he was elected a Cornet in the Nansemond County Militia and remained on active duty, or at least available for active duty, until the end of the War. He indicated that he took part in several harassing actions conducted against British troops in and about the Virginia Tidewater area. Unfortunately, his application was denied on technical grounds. Nathaniel made a resubmission, which corrected most of the deficiencies found in his first application, but he died before any action was taken by the Government. Based on my review of the entire Government file and knowledge of the local history during that period, I personally believe his statements to be true.

Even though I believe Nathaniel's pension application, I am still amazed that he supported the Whig cause. His background is such that I would have expected him to be a Tory (Loyalist). There are two main reasons for this:

1. Nathaniel's father, Thomas, was a vestryman and a royal tobacco inspector. Both occupations would be eliminated in the event of a successful war of independence. Thus the socio-economic status of his family could be adversely affected if the Whig cause prevailed.

2. Nathaniel's maternal grandfather, John Wilson, belonged to one of the most hated groups of people in Colonial Virginia; he was a Scottish factor representing a Glasgow merchant house (see Section 1 above, for a discussion of the Scottish factors). A successful revolution could have meant the financial destruction of his mother's family!

Life After the Revolution

After the Revolution, in April 1784, Nathaniel was chosen as a vestryman for the Upper parish of Nansemond County. In November 1785 he was appointed an ensign in the Nansemond County Militia. About this same time, he went into the "coasting trade" and, in 1789, went to Scotland to serve in the merchant house of his mother's family; he remained there until 1797. In that year he returned to the United States and settled in Person County, North Carolina. In North Carolina he became both a farmer and a prosperous merchant. His general store was located at Bushy Fork, a few miles southwest of the Person County Seat, Roxboro. In 1800, he married Priscilla Milner (1780-1835); they were the parents of ten children.


In the early part of his life, Nathaniel, like his father, was a member of the Church of England. Shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War, in 1784, Nathaniel was elected a member of the Vestry for the Upper Parish of Nansemond County. However, by this time, Vestry membership was of far less importance than it had been under the King. The Anglican Church was in the process of being "disestablished" and was nearing a state of almost total collapse. The Church of England had been mostly staffed by clergy from England who were dedicated Tories, thus, the Church became almost totally identified with the failed Loyalist cause.

After moving to North Carolina, Nathaniel became an active member of Wheeley's Primitive Baptist Church. In 1816, he donated the five acres of land on which the church meeting house was located.

Stephen Pleasant - Friend of Nathaniel Norfleet: In 1828, Stephen Pleasant, a very noted Baptist Minister of the day, became the Pastor. He and Nathaniel became very good friends. In 1832, Pleasant withdrew from the Primitive Baptist Church over issues involving the prohibition of foreign missions and the Doctrine of Predestination. Pleasant took a position similar to that of Elder Reuben Ross of Middle Tennessee and supported the concept of foreign missions. Accordingly, in September 1832, Reverend Pleasant formed a new congregation and initially held meetings at Norfleet's Schoolhouse (owned by Nathaniel Norfleet). This group became the nucleus of the Clement Baptist Church. In 1836, shortly before his death, Nathaniel gave three acres of land to the Clement Church because of the:

            " … love and affection which he hath for Stephen Pleasant."

A church building was soon erected on this property which served the congregation until 1885.

Virginia and North Carolina Norfleets Who Provided Public Service During the Revolution

The Virginia State Library has a sizable collection of "Public Service Claims" filed by Virginia residents after the Revolution. These were claims for financial reimbursement for goods and/or services furnished in support of the patriot cause during the Revolutionary War. This table summarizes those claims that were filed by members of the Norfleet family and approved for payment by the State of Virginia.

Two Norfleets who gave public service during the revolution deserve special note - Cordall Norfleet of Southampton County, Virginia and Reuben Norfleet of Bertie County, North Carolina.

Cordall Norfleet (c. 1735-1788)

Cordall Norfleet was the son of Joseph and Elizabeth Norfleet of Nansemond County. His father, Joseph, was the tobacco inspector (appointed in 1733) at Lawrence's Warehouse; this warehouse was located on the site where the town of Suffolk was later established in 1742. The position of Inspector of Tobacco was a potentially very lucrative post and was much sought after by members of the Virginia Gentry. Joseph held land in both Nansemond and Isle of Wight Counties. In 1737, Joseph acquired a 185 acre tract of land in the Nottaway Parish of Isle of Wight County. In 1749, the County of Southampton was formed and the land fell within the new county. This tract formed the nucleus of the plantation that Joseph's son, Cordall, would later create. By the time of his death in 1788, Cordall's plantation in Southampton County had grown to 1400 acres.

Cordall was the first Norfleet to establish his primary residence in Southampton County. He apparently moved to Southampton in about 1756 for, in that year, he patented an additional 200 acres of land adjacent to that of his father, Joseph (then deceased). Cordall most certainly was a resident by 1760; he was appointed ensign in the Southampton Militia in that year by the Royal Governor of Virginia, Francis Fauquier.

As a royal officer in the militia, he would have been required to take the Test Oath, the Oath of Abjuration and two Oaths of Allegiance to the King. Having previously taken these oaths, when the Revolution began, Cordall, like George Washington, may have had some hesitation before embracing the patriot cause.

Cordall’s Illegitimate Son

Cordall appears to have been somewhat of a "womanizer" in his younger days. On 14 March 1760, he was ordered by the Justices of Southampton County to post a bastardy bond for a child he sired by a woman named Ann Bynum. [3] The child was apparently named Cordall Norfleet Bynum. In his will (probated 1788), Cordall Norfleet left Cordall N. Bynum a 694-acre plantation in Northampton County, North Carolina; this legacy constituted almost one-third of Cordall's entire estate!

Marriage to Mary Wilkinson

In July 1771, Cordall married Mary Wilkinson, by whom he had five (5) children; only three survived into adulthood, Elizabeth, John and Sarah. Cordall was a successful planter; at the time of his death in 1788, he had accumulated 1400 acres of land in Southampton County, Virginia, 694 acres of land in Northampton County, North Carolina and owned about 28 slaves.

Revolutionary War Participation

At the time of the Revolution, Cordall Norfleet was a wealthy planter of Southampton County Virginia. His political position during the early days of the Revolutionary War may have been somewhat equivocal. The minutes of the Committee of Safety for Southampton County, for 11 January 1776, makes the following reference to Cordall:

"Ordered that Mr. Wm Blunt & Mr. Jno Thomas Blow wait on Mr. Jno Wilkinson & Mr. Cordall Norfleet & take security that they do not sell any pork that may be barreled by them without permission of this committee." [4]

The Committees of Safety were the de facto local governing bodies at the county level in Revolutionary Virginia, entirely replacing the royal governing structures such as the parish vestries. The committee order cited above is equivocal, but the implication is that messieurs Wilkinson and Norfleet may have been considered less than sanguine regarding the patriot cause and therefore required watching by the Committee.

The above notwithstanding, after the Revolution, Cordall filed two War connected public service claims in Virginia for which he was reimbursed (see table).

Lawsuit in Virginia Court of Appeals

Ten years after Cordall's death, his only legitimate male heir, John Norfleet died in 1798, shortly after having reached the age of 21. John's wife of only three months, Eve Formicula Norfleet (for more about John and Eve see below), renounced her rights to his estate for a "stipulated price." However, John's early death gave rise to a major lawsuit between his two sisters, Elizabeth and Sarah; and the children (William and Lavinia) of his mother, Mary Norfleet, by her second husband, William Gee. The case ultimately went to the Virginia Court of Appeals and the court decision (in October 1805) became a major precedent in the law concerning widow's dower. [5] It is interesting to note that none of the parties contested the 694-acre legacy to Cordall Norfleet Bynum, hence his illegitimate status must have been well known to all members of the family!

John Norfleet and Eve Formicula

Cordall Norfleet's only surviving, legitimate, male heir, John Norfleet, was the first Norfleet in the United States to attend a university (College of William and Mary). While a student, in April 1798, John married one of the leading belles of Williamsburg, Eve Formicula. Eve was the daughter of Matilda Stuart and Serafina Formicula of Venice, Italy.

Eve's father, Serafina Formicula, was reputed to have been a close friend of the last royal governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore and may have been his steward. When Dunmore was forced to leave Virginia during the Revolution, the Formiculas remained behind. Serafina's family first resided in Williamsburg, but later they removed to the new Virginia State Capitol, Richmond. In Richmond Serafina owned a tavern and subsequently managed the famous Eagle Tavern. He was a patron of the arts and was a subscriber to the Academy of Fine Arts in Richmond. [6]

Just after her marriage in April 1798, Eve Formicula was described by one of her former admirers, Garrett Minor (College of William and Mary student) in the following words:

" … The ladies of this place [Williamsburg] … are the most engaging, pleasing, easy and polite set of women with whom I was ever acquainted. One of the finest has lately retired from this elysium. E. Formicula is noosed irrevocably to Mr. Norfleet. On the whole I admired Eve. She was fickle, inconstant, extravagant and coquettish. But she was endowed with sensibility and a share of sense which in some measure extenuated these qualities." [7]

Unfortunately, John Norfleet died only three months after his marriage to Eve, in July 1798. His widow, within a short time, again married, this time to her cousin, Stuart Bankhead. Eve's second husband also died after a short time, in about 1807. On 1 March 1808, Eve was married for a third time, to Robert Gilchrist Robb. [8] Her third husband also lived for only a few years and Eve was left a widow for the third time. Shortly thereafter, Eve Formicula Norfleet Bankhead Robb died, as a three-time widow, at the age of only 31. [9] She definitely lived her life in the "fast lane!"

Reuben Norfleet (1730-1801)

At least one descendant of Reuben Norfleet of Bertie County, North Carolina has been able to utilize the fact of his services, given to the patriot cause during the Revolution, to gain entry into the DAR. [10] Reuben was the second son of the elder Marmaduke Norfleet (1700-1774) of Perquimans and Northampton Counties. Reuben Norfleet (1730-1801) was a wealthy planter who owned large tracts of land on both sides of the Roanoke River. During the Revolution he was a Justice of the Peace for Bertie County and a United States Postmaster.

It is said by some of his descendants that he was also a Captain in the North Carolina State Militia for Bertie County during the Revolution. However, I have not been able to find any documentary evidence supporting this claim. Earlier, during the French and Indian War, his military service was of a somewhat more dubious nature. In 1759, he was a private in Captain James McGirtt's Company in the North Carolina Militia Regiment commanded by Colonel Richard Richardson. Unfortunately the company muster list indicates that he deserted on 12 November 1759! [11]

Section 3 – Virginia and North Carolina Census Enumerations (1783-1790)

It is possible to construct a reasonably accurate census of all the Norfleet families in the United States in the years immediately following the Revolutionary War. In those years all the Norfleet families, of which I am aware, lived in Nansemond or Southampton Virginia; or in the Albemarle Region of North Carolina. [12] The North Carolina Norfleets are easy to enumerate since the 1790 Federal Census for North Carolina is still extant for most counties. Unfortunately the detailed 1790 Federal Census for Virginia has been lost. To reconstruct the census for the Virginia Norfleets two sources of data have been used: the Virginia State Census of 1784 for Nansemond County and the Southampton/Nansemond County Land Tax Lists for 1782-83. This table delineates this Norfleet census for both Virginia and North Carolina.

Virginia State Census Enumerations

As mentioned above, the detailed 1790 Federal Census for Virginia is no longer extant. The book published by the Bureau of the Census for the 1790 Virginia Federal Census is really a composite of four state enumerations conducted in 1782, 1783, 1784 and 1785. Data for Nansemond County is extant only in the enumerations for 1783 and 1784. Since slave data was not collected for the 1783 census, the 1784 census data has been used to reconstruct the Norfleet census shown in the table.

Virginia Land Tax Lists

The principal sources of government revenue in Colonial Virginia were poll taxes, customs duties and an export tax on tobacco, skins and furs. Except for a short time during the French and Indian War, there were no taxes applied to land ownership, except for the quitrents due the King. During the Revolution, to finance the War, many new methods of extracting revenue from the public were tried. However, in 1781, the Virginia Assembly passed a new set of comprehensive tax laws, which among other things included a tax on land. The new taxes were required to be first paid on or before June 1782 and annually hereafter. They included taxes on both land and polls as follows:

1.  A land tax of one pound per 100 of assessed value of the land plus an additional tax on large land holdings of five shillings per each 100 acres in excess of 1400.

2.  A poll tax on each free white male over twenty-one and on all slaves.

The above cited tax laws were amended in 1786 to require the preparation of annual tax lists which identified for each taxpayers the amount of land owned in acres, number of white males above 21, number of white males 16-21, and number of slaves above age 16. The tax laws were subsequently amended several time thereafter; however, the point I wish to make is that land and poll tax lists by taxpayer name are generally available for most counties in Virginia from 1782 forward. Of course, these records are very valuable from the genealogical standpoint. For Nansemond County, land tax lists are available for the years 1782-83, 1787-89, 1794-1807, and from 1809-forward; personal property/poll tax lists are available from 1815-forward. For the Norfleet census, shown in the table, I have used the 1782-83 land tax lists from both Nansemond and Southampton Counties.

Section 4 – The Nansemond County Clerk’s Fee Books 1789-1800

As previously mentioned, most records of Nansemond County before 1866 have been destroyed; however, a few of the fee books, covering the period 1789-1800 have survived. Both before and after the Revolution, the clerks of Virginia’s counties kept these books of fees which were charged to individuals for various services performed by the clerks such as recording lawsuits, taking depositions, calling a jury, making copies of documents, and recording wills, appraisals, sales and administrations of estates. These old Nansemond County fee books have been microfilmed and are available for perusal at the Virginia State Library. A published index is also available, which was compiled in 1978 by the Hugh S. Watson, Jr. Genealogical Society of Hampton, Virginia. Most of the entries are quite cryptic/abbreviated and frequently omit the first name of some of the people cited. However, based upon my review, this hyperlinked table identifies a few entries that may be of genealogical interest to the Norfleets.

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1.  See J. R. B. Hathaway, Editor, The North Carolina Historical and Genealogical Register, Volume II, No. 1 (January 1901), page 122.

2.  I have a photocopy of the newspaper, which I obtained from the British Library Newspaper Library on Collindale Avenue (Collindale Underground Station), London.

3.  An attempt was made, by someone, to rub out the last name of Ann Bynum from the Southampton County Court Order Book on file at the Southampton County Clerk’s Office. However, by using digital scanning and enhancement techniques, I have been able to restore the original name (see Figure 12 above).

4.  See Bulletin of the Virginia State Library, Vol. XVII (November 1929), No. 3, page 150.

5.  See Daniel Call, Reports of Cases Argued and Decided in the Court of Appeals of Virginia, Volume V, pages 481-513.

6.  Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Volume II, No. 3 (January 1921), pages 194-195.

7.  Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Volume XXX, No. 3 (July 1922), page 245.

8.  William and Mary Quarterly Historical Magazine, Volume IX, No. 4 (October 1929), page 313.

9.  Op. Cit., page 194.

0.  See Three Centuries of Family Records 1577-1955, published by the Guilford Battle Chapter of the Daughters of the American revolution, Greensboro, North Carolina, page 198.

11.  See Murtie Jane Clark, Colonial Soldiers of the South 1732-1774 (1983), page 884.

12.  The first Norfleet to leave the Virginia Tidewater/Albemarle North Carolina area was Major James Norfleet who emigrated to Davidson County, North Carolina (now Tennessee) late in the year 1789.

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